Cato Institute

The Cato Institute is an American libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch,[5] chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries.[nb 1] In July 1976, the name was changed to the Cato Institute.[5][6] Cato was established to have a focus on public advocacy, media exposure and societal influence.[7] According to the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), Cato is number 15 in the "Top Think Tanks Worldwide" and number 10 in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".[8]

Cato Institute
Motto"Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace"
Established1974 (1974)[1]
FoundersEd Crane, Charles Koch, Murray Rothbard
Type501(c)(3) Non-profit think tank
FocusPublic advocacy, media exposure and societal influence
Coordinates38°54′12″N 77°01′35″W
President and CEO
Peter N. Goettler[2]
Robert A. Levy[2]
Executive Vice-President
David Boaz[3]
Budget (FYE March 2015)
Revenue: $37.3 million
Expenses: $29.4 million[4]
Endowment$72,934,328 (2015)
100 staff
46 faculty
70 adjunct faculty
Formerly called
Charles Koch Foundation; Cato Foundation

The Cato Institute is libertarian in its political philosophy, and advocates a limited role for government in domestic and foreign affairs as well as a strong protection of civil rights. This includes support for the demilitarization of the police, lowering or abolishing most taxes, opposition to the Federal Reserve system, the privatization of numerous government agencies and programs including Social Security, the Affordable Care Act and the United States Postal Service, along with adhering to a non-interventionist foreign policy.


The institute was founded in December 1974 in Wichita, Kansas, as the Charles Koch Foundation and initially funded by Charles Koch.[nb 2][9] The other members of the first board of directors included co-founder Murray Rothbard, libertarian scholar Earl Ravenal, and businessmen Sam H. Husbands Jr. and David H. Padden.[5][10] At the suggestion of Rothbard,[10] the institute changed its name in 1976 to Cato Institute after Cato's Letters, a series of British essays penned in the early 18th century by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.[11][12]

Cato relocated first to San Francisco, California, in 1977, then to Washington, D.C., in 1981, settling initially in a historic house on Capitol Hill.[13](p446) The institute moved to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue in 1993. Cato Institute was named the fifth-ranked think tank in the world for 2009 in a study of think tanks by James G. McGann, PhD of the University of Pennsylvania, based on a criterion of excellence in "producing rigorous and relevant research, publications and programs in one or more substantive areas of research".[14]


Various Cato programs were favorably ranked in a survey published by the University of Pennsylvania in 2012.[8]


The Cato Institute publishes numerous policy studies, briefing papers, periodicals, and books. Peer-reviewed academic journals include the Cato Journal[15][16][17] and Regulation.[18][19][20] Other periodicals include Cato's Letter,[21] Cato Supreme Court Review,[22] and Cato Policy Report.[23] Cato published Inquiry Magazine from 1977 to 1982 (before transferring it to the Libertarian Review Foundation)[24] and Literature of Liberty from 1978 to 1979 (before transferring it to the Institute for Humane Studies).[25]

Notable books from Cato and Cato scholars include:

Web projects

In addition to maintaining its own website in English and Spanish,[26] Cato maintains websites focused on particular topics:

  • "Downsizing the Federal Government" contains essays on the size of the U.S. federal government and recommendations for decreasing various programs.[27]
  • is a website focused on the theory and practice of libertarianism.
  • Cato Unbound, a web-only publication that features a monthly open debate among four people. The conversation begins with one lead essay, followed by three response essays by separate people. After that, all four participants can write as many responses and counter-responses as they want for the duration of that month.
  • contains reports and stories from Cato's National Police Misconduct Reporting Project and the National Police Misconduct News Feed.[28]
  • Overlawyered is a law blog on the subject of tort reform run by author Walter Olson.
  • is an interactive data web project that catalogs increases in prosperity driven by the free market.
  • "Public Schooling Battle Map" illustrates different moral conflicts that result from public schooling.[29]
  • is dedicated to abolishing Qualified Immunity.[30]
  • ranks states by policies that shape personal and economic freedom.[31]

Social media sponsored by Cato includes "Daily Podcasts" (through iTunes and RSS feeds), plus pages on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.[32]


Speakers at Cato have included Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato.[33][34][35] In 2009 Czech Republic President Václav Klaus spoke at a conference.[36]

Ideological relationships

Libertarianism, classical liberalism, and conservatism

Many Cato scholars advocate support for civil liberties, liberal immigration policies,[37] drug liberalization,[38] and the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and laws restricting consensual sexual activity.[39][40] The Cato Institute officially resists being labeled as part of the conservative movement because "'conservative' smacks of an unwillingness to change, of a desire to preserve the status quo".[41]

In 2006, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos proposed the term "Libertarian Democrat" to describe his particular liberal position, suggesting that libertarians should be allies of the Democratic Party. Replying, Cato vice president for research Brink Lindsey agreed that libertarians and liberals should view each other as natural ideological allies,[42] and noted continuing differences between mainstream liberal views on economic policy and Cato's "Jeffersonian philosophy". Cato has stated on its "About Cato" page: "The Jeffersonian philosophy that animates Cato's work has increasingly come to be called 'libertarianism' or 'market liberalism.' It combines an appreciation for entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about the benefits of both the welfare state and foreign military adventurism."[43]

Some Cato scholars disagree with conservatives on neo-conservative foreign policy, albeit that this has not always been uniform.[44]


The relationship between Cato and the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) improved with the nomination of Cato's new president John A. Allison IV in 2012. He is a former ARI board member and is reported to be an "ardent devotee" of Rand who has promoted reading her books to colleges nationwide.[45] In March 2015 Allison retired and was replaced by Peter Goettler. Allison remains on the Cato Institute's board.[46]

Cato positions on political issues and policies

The Cato Institute advocates policies that advance "individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace". They are libertarian in their policy positions, typically advocating diminished government intervention in domestic, social, and economic policies and decreased military and political intervention worldwide. Cato was cited by columnist Ezra Klein as nonpartisan, saying that it is "the foremost advocate for small-government principles in American life" and it "advocates those principles when Democrats are in power, and when Republicans are in power";[47] and Eric Lichtblau called Cato "one of the country's most widely cited research organizations."[48] Nina Eastman reported in 1995 that "on any given day, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas might be visiting for lunch. Or Cato staffers might be plotting strategy with House Majority Leader Dick Armey, another Texan, and his staff."[49]

On domestic issues

Cato scholars have consistently called for the privatization of many government services and institutions, including NASA, Social Security, the United States Postal Service, the Transportation Security Administration, public schooling, public transportation systems, and public broadcasting.[50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57] The institute opposes minimum wage laws, saying that they violate the freedom of contract and thus private property rights, and increase unemployment.[58][59] It is opposed to expanding overtime regulations, arguing that it will benefit some employees in the short term, while costing jobs or lowering wages of others, and have no meaningful long-term impact.[60][61] It opposes child labor prohibitions.[62][63][64] It opposes public sector unions and supports right-to-work laws.[65][66] It opposes universal health care, arguing that it is harmful to patients and an intrusion onto individual liberty.[67][68] It is against affirmative action.[69] It has also called for total abolition of the welfare state, and has argued that it should be replaced with reduced business regulations to create more jobs, and argues that private charities are fully capable of replacing it.[70][71] Cato has also opposed antitrust laws.[72][73]

Cato is an opponent of campaign finance reform, arguing that government is the ultimate form of potential corruption and that such laws undermine democracy by undermining competitive elections. Cato also supports the repeal of the Federal Election Campaign Act.[74][75]

Cato has published strong criticisms of the 1998 settlement which many U.S. states signed with the tobacco industry.[76] In 2004, Cato scholar Daniel Griswold wrote in support of President George W. Bush's failed proposal to grant temporary work visas to otherwise undocumented laborers which would have granted limited residency for the purpose of employment in the U.S.[77]

The Cato Institute published a study proposing a Balanced Budget Veto Amendment to the United States Constitution.[78]

In 2003, Cato filed an amicus brief in support of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the remaining state laws that made private, non-commercial homosexual relations between consenting adults illegal. Cato cited the 14th Amendment, among other things, as the source of their support for the ruling. The amicus brief was cited in Justice Kennedy's majority opinion for the Court.[79]

In 2006, Cato published a Policy Analysis criticising the Federal Marriage Amendment as unnecessary, anti-federalist, and anti-democratic.[80] The amendment would have changed the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage; the amendment failed in both houses of Congress.

Cato scholars have been sharp critics of current U.S. drug policy and the perceived growing militarization of U.S. law enforcement.[81]

Criticism of corporate welfare

In 2004, the institute published a paper arguing in favor of "drug re-importation".[82] Cato has published numerous studies criticizing what it calls "corporate welfare", the practice of public officials funneling taxpayer money, usually via targeted budgetary spending, to politically connected corporate interests.[83][84][85][86]

Cato president Ed Crane and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope co-wrote a 2002 op-ed piece in The Washington Post calling for the abandonment of the Republican energy bill, arguing that it had become little more than a gravy train for Washington, D.C., lobbyists.[87] Again in 2005, Cato scholar Jerry Taylor teamed up with Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club to attack the Republican Energy Bill as a give-away to corporate interests.[88]

A 2006 study criticized the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.[89]

On foreign policy

Cato's non-interventionist foreign policy views, and strong support for civil liberties, have frequently led Cato scholars to criticize those in power, both Republican and Democratic. Cato scholars opposed President George H. W. Bush's 1991 Gulf War operations (a position which caused the organization to lose nearly $1 million in funding),[13](p454) President Bill Clinton's interventions in Haiti and Kosovo, President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq, and President Barack Obama's 2011 military intervention in Libya.[90] As a response to the September 11 attacks, Cato scholars supported the removal of al Qaeda and the Taliban regime from power, but are against an indefinite and open-ended military occupation of Afghanistan.[91] Cato scholars criticized U.S. involvement in Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.[90]

Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato's vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, criticized many of the arguments offered to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. One of the war's earliest critics, Carpenter wrote in January 2002: "Ousting Saddam would make Washington responsible for Iraq's political future and entangle the United States in an endless nation-building mission beset by intractable problems."[92] Carpenter also predicted: "Most notably there is the issue posed by two persistent regional secession movements: the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south."[92] But in 2002 Carpenter wrote, "the United States should not shrink from confronting al-Qaeda in its Pakistani lair,"[93] a position echoed in the institute's policy recommendations for the 108th Congress.[94] Cato's director of foreign policy studies, Christopher Preble, argues in The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free, that America's position as an unrivaled superpower tempts policymakers to constantly overreach and to redefine ever more broadly the "national interest".[95]

Christopher Preble has said that the "scare campaign" to protect military spending from cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011 has backfired.[96]

On environmental policy

Cato scholars have written about the issues of the environment, including global warming, environmental regulation, and energy policy. and Scientific American have criticized Cato's work on global warming.[97][98] A December 2003 Cato panel included Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling and John Christy. Michaels, Balling and Christy agreed that global warming is related at least some degree to human activity but that some scientists and the media have overstated the danger. The Cato Institute has also criticized political attempts to stop global warming as expensive and ineffective:

No known mechanism can stop global warming in the near term. International agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, would have no detectable effect on average temperature within any reasonable policy time frame (i.e., 50 years or so), even with full compliance.[99]

Cato scholars have been critical of the Bush administration's views on energy policy. In 2003, Cato scholars Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren said the Republican Energy Bill was "hundreds of pages of corporate welfare, symbolic gestures, empty promises, and pork-barrel projects".[100] They also spoke out against the former president's calls for larger ethanol subsidies.[101]

With regard to the "Takings Clause" of the United States Constitution and environmental protection, libertarians associated with Cato contend that the Constitution is not adequate to guarantee the protection of private property rights.[102]

Other commentaries of presidential administrations

Cato scholars were critical of George W. Bush's Republican administration (2001–2009) on several issues, including education,[103] and excessive government spending.[104] On other issues, they supported Bush administration initiatives, most notably health care,[105] Social Security,[106][107] global warming,[99] tax policy,[108] and immigration.[77][109][110][111]

During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Cato scholars criticized both major-party candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama.[112][113]

Cato has criticized President Obama's stances on policy issues such as fiscal stimulus,[114] healthcare reform,[115] foreign policy,[116] and drug-related matters,[38] while supporting his stance on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell[40] and the DREAM Act.[37]

Cato was critical of Trump's immigration ban, which was enacted in January 2017.[117]

Funding, tax status, and corporate structure

The Cato Institute is classified as a 501(c)(3) organization under U.S. Internal Revenue Code. For revenue, the institute is largely dependent on private contributions and does not receive government funding.[118] The Cato Institute reported fiscal year 2015 revenue of $37.3 million and expenses of $29.4 million.[4] According to the organization's annual report, $32.1 million came from individual donors, $2.9 million came from foundations, $1.2 million came from program revenue and other income, and $1 million came from corporations.[4]

Sponsors of Cato have included FedEx, Google, CME Group and Whole Foods Market.[119] The Nation reported support for Cato from the tobacco industry in a 2012 story.[120]

Funding details

Net assets as of FYE March 2015: $70,186,000.

Shareholder dispute and departure of Ed Crane

According to an agreement signed in 1977, there were to be four shareholders of the Cato Institute. They were Charles and David Koch, Ed Crane,[121] and William A. Niskanen. Niskanen died in October 2011.[122] In March 2012, a dispute broke out over the ownership of Niskanen's shares.[121][122] Charles and David Koch filed suit in Kansas, seeking to void his shareholder seat. The Kochs argued that Niskanen's shares should first be offered to the board of the institute, and then to the remaining shareholders.[123] Crane contended that Niskanen's share belonged to his widow, Kathryn Washburn, and that the move by the Kochs was an attempt to turn Cato into "some sort of auxiliary for the G.O.P ... It's detrimental to Cato, it's detrimental to Koch Industries, it's detrimental to the libertarian movement."[48]

In June 2012, Cato announced an agreement in principle to settle the dispute by changing the institute's governing structure. Under the agreement, a board replaced the shareholders and Crane, who at the time was also chief executive officer, retired. Former BB&T bank CEO John A. Allison IV replaced him.[124][125] The Koch brothers agreed to drop two lawsuits.[126]

In 2018, several former Cato employees alleged longtime sexual harassment by Crane, going back to the 1990s and continuing until his departure in 2012. Politico reported that he settled one such claim in 2012. Crane denied the allegations.[127]

Associates in the news

  • Cato senior fellow Robert A. Levy personally funded the plaintiffs' successful Supreme Court challenge to the District of Columbia's gun ban (District of Columbia v. Heller), on the basis of the Second Amendment.[128]
  • In January 2008, Dom Armentano wrote an op-ed piece about UFOs and classified government data in the Vero Beach Press-Journal.[129] Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz wrote that "I won't deny that this latest op-ed played a role in our decision ..." to drop Armentano as a Cato adjunct scholar.[130]

Nobel laureates at Cato

The following Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences laureates have worked with Cato:[131]

Milton Friedman Prize

Since 2002, the Cato Institute has awarded the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty every two years to "an individual who has made a significant contribution to advancing human freedom."[132] The prize comes with a cash award of US$250,000.[133]


Friedman Prize winners
2002Peter Thomas Bauer[134] British
2004Hernando de Soto Polar[135] Peruvian
2006Mart Laar[136] Estonian
2008Yon Goicoechea[137] Venezuelan
2010Akbar Ganji[138] Iranian
2012Mao Yushi[139] Chinese
2014Leszek Balcerowicz[140] Polish
2016Flemming Rose[141] Danish
2018Ladies in White[142] Cuban

Board of directors

As of 2016:[2]

Notable Cato experts

Notable scholars associated with Cato include the following:[143]

Policy scholars

Adjunct scholars



The Cato Institute is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a U.S. national network of free-market oriented think tanks.[144][145]


According to the 2017 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report (Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, University of Pennsylvania), Cato is number 15 in the "Top Think Tanks Worldwide" and number 10 in the "Top Think Tanks in the United States".[8] Other "Top Think Tank" rankings include # 13 (of 85) in Defense and National Security, #5 (of 80) in Domestic Economic Policy, #4 (of 55) in Education Policy, #17 (of 85) in Foreign Policy and International Affairs, #8 (of 30) in Domestic Health Policy, #14 (of 25) in Global Health Policy, #18 (of 80) in International Development, #14 (of 50) in International Economic Policy, #8 (of 50) in Social Policy, #8 (of 75) for Best Advocacy Campaign, #17 (of 60) for Best Think Tank Network, #3 (of 60) for best Use of Social Networks, #9 (of 50) for Best External Relations/Public Engagement Program, #2 (of 40) for Best Use of the Internet, #12 (of 40) for Best Use of Media, #5 (of 30) for Most Innovative Policy Ideas/Proposals, #11 (of 70) for the Most Significant Impact on Public Policy, and #9 (of 60) for Outstanding Policy-Oriented Public Programs. Cato also topped the 2014 list of the budget-adjusted ranking of international development think tanks.[146]

See also


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  2. Koch is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, the second largest privately held company by revenue in the United States. "Forbes List". Forbes. Retrieved November 13, 2011.


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